Yes. When J.D.'s grandparents moved there from a picturesque mountain town in Northern Kentucky, they were leaving behind coal country for the hope of a better life. The Hillbilly Elegy true story reveals that by the time J.D. was born, Middletown's steel mill was no longer thriving and the town was gradually heading toward economic despair.
No. In the film, a day before interviewing for a summer associate job that could fund his next semester, J.D. Vance is called home to deal with his mother who has just survived a heroin overdose. As stated in the prior question, in his memoir, Vance does talk about getting a call from his sister Lindsay toward the end of law school at Yale. However, he didn't go home until several weeks later, after graduation. J.D. went home to help get his homeless mother off the street and back on her feet. Him rushing home and potentially losing a law clerk job appears to be fictional.
No. In the movie, the hospital J.D. Vance's mother Bev (Amy Adams) is in is on the verge of kicking her out. In order to pay for a week-long stay in rehab, J.D. puts the bill on four credit cards. He then learns that his mother has no interest in going to rehab. The J.D. Vance true story presented in the book has no mention of him paying for one of his mother's rehab stays. After his Mamaw passes away, he does talk about some of her debt being the result of her paying for her daughter's rehab stays. He alludes to some of his own bad financial decisions and having credit card debt, but not because of his mother. The only mention of his mother taking money from him is when he describes growing up and having to hide cash he had in different places to help prevent his mother from finding it and "borrowing" it.
For the most part, yes. The Hillbilly Elegy true story confirms that Bev Vance married her high school boyfriend and entered into a life beset by fighting, drama, and violence, similar to the dysfunction she had observed in her parents' relationship. She gave birth to J.D.'s sister, Lindsay, at age 19 and filed for divorce that same year. Bev remarried in 1983, this time tying the knot with J.D.'s father, a man named Don Bowman. J.D. was born the following year. His father exited his life when he was in kindergarten.
The next man in J.D. Vance's mother's life was a truck driver named Bob Hamel, whom he describes as a stereotypical hillbilly. J.D. witnessed his mother and Bob engage in verbal abuse, screaming matches, and physical violence (they set ground rules that Bob couldn't hit first). Bev and Bob wracked up a considerable debt on things they didn't need, including new cars and a swimming pool. Bev entered into numerous affairs and turned to drugs and alcohol. They eventually separated. By that time, J.D.'s grades had begun to suffer. He put on weight, was plagued by severe stomachaches, and had trouble sleeping.
Yes. This is portrayed accurately in the movie, perhaps even downplayed somewhat. The real J.D. Vance says that he had 15 different "stepdads" as a child. This included the different husbands and boyfriends that moved in and out of Bev's life. -Uncommon Knowledge
Yes. The J.D. Vance true story confirms that he watched his mother be arrested more than once. The most significant of these arrests took place when he was twelve. "I said something, or some conversation topic really ignited her temper," J.D. recalled in an interview with Megyn Kelly, "and then she just sped up, and she just kept on saying, 'I'm just gonna crash this car and kill us both. I'm gonna crash this car and kill us both.'" When she pulled over and started to try and beat him, J.D. jumped out of the car and ran to a nearby house for help. Recognizing he was in distress, the woman who answered called the police. Bev kicked in the woman's door and dragged J.D. out onto the front lawn as he screamed for help.
The police arrived and he watched his mother get hauled away in a police cruiser. "Honestly, I just felt relieved. In that moment, I just felt relieved," recalled J.D., "and I thought to myself, alright, I'm gonna live another day. That's how terrified I was." Sitting in the back of a police car, J.D. waited for his sister Lindsay (pictured below) to arrive and rescue him. The arrest resulted in the family being entered into the system, which meant the start of mandated family counseling and social worker visits. Following Beverly Vance's arrest, J.D. began living with Mamaw off and on.
Yes. When J.D.'s mother, Beverly Vance, was spiraling out of control with addiction, his grandmother (Mamaw), who is portrayed by Glenn Close in the film, stepped in and raised his older sister Lindsay and him. J.D. describes his grandparents as filling in the gaps when his mother was unfit for the role.
Yes. Like in the Hillbilly Elegy movie, J.D.'s mom Bev would exit one relationship or marriage and quickly enter into another. After ending things with a nice guy named Matt, she almost immediately agreed to marry her boss at the dialysis center where she was working as a nurse. They had only been dating for a week. He was a Korean-born man named Ken and was ten years her senior. He had three children, two boys and a girl. J.D. and his mother moved in with them. It was J.D.'s fourth home in two years.
The oldest boy didn't like Bev and fought with her constantly. J.D. fought with him in defense of her. While he was exploring a small greenhouse, he stumbled upon a nearly full-grown marijuana plant. Later, he experimented with a stash of Ken's weed that Ken's son had found. At the time, J.D., who was 15 and a sophomore in high school, was also drinking alcohol somewhat and had abysmal grades. By that point, his sister Lindsay had entered into a successful marriage and was no longer around for him to lean on. After several months, his grandma (Mamaw) began to realize what was going on, including that his mom was using drugs again. The J.D. Vance true story confirms that Bev showed up asking J.D. for his urine so that she could pass a drug test. It prompted Mamaw to make the decision that J.D. would live with her permanently.
Yes. Usha (Freida Pinto) is based on J.D.'s real-life girlfriend, Usha Chilukuri, an Indian-American woman who he met while attending Yale Law School. In 2014–15, Usha clerked for then-judge Brett Kavanaugh. She was a law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in the 2017–18 term. J.D. and Usha were married in 2014 in Eastern Kentucky. They currently have two sons, Ewan (born in 2017) and an infant.
Yes. In the movie, Mamaw (Glenn Close) is seen watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the umpteenth time. She tells J.D. that everyone in the world falls into one of three categories. A person is either a "good Terminator, a bad Terminator or neutral." In the book, it is J.D., not his grandmother, who talks about feeling like he was being "chased by the bad terminator or protected by the good one." He also talks about his Mamaw's love of the HBO series The Sopranos.
Yes. The Hillbilly Elegy true story confirms that J.D. Vance enlisted in the Marines after graduating high school. He served in Iraq, performing media relations tasks. In his memoir, he talks about his time in the military as being the first time he felt like an adult, largely due to the fact that he could help take care of his family members instead of them taking care of him.
A somewhat similar thing happens in Vance's memoir. He heard rumors that one of his professors looked down upon Yale Law students who didn't come from prestigious schools like Standford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. After turning in a sloppy writing assignment, the professor called one of his paragraphs a "vomit of sentences masquerading as a paragraph." Vance worked to change his professor's mind about Yale Law students who come from state schools. By the end of the semester, the professor referred to Vance's writing as "excellent," even admitting that he might have been wrong about students who come from state schools.
Yes. A Hillbilly Elegy fact check confirms that this is taken straight from J.D. Vance's memoir. He talks about the phrase being part of his grandmother's "trademark vitriol."
In the movie, we see this in flashbacks but it is downplayed somewhat in order to paint Glenn Close's character as the movie's moral center. In the book, J.D. writes about the damage that Mamaw and Papaw wrought on their children, including J.D.'s mom Bev. He discusses Papaw's battle with alcoholism and Mamaw's desire to later repair the damage.
Mamaw had been in an abusive relationship herself. In the book, J.D. does not know if Mamaw was abused as a child, but he talks about her desire to help poor, abused, and neglected children. She would buy school supplies and shoes for the neighborhood's poorest children. She even dreamed of becoming a children's attorney. J.D. ponders where these desires came from, wondering if she herself was abused as a child.
Peer deeper into the true story behind Hillbilly Elegy and broaden your understanding of J.D. Vance's life by watching the interviews featured below.